When Friends Want Friends' Clothes

Is imitation flattering or irritating?

Girls' shoes and pants illustration by Kate Worum
Illustration by Kate Worum

She was wearing my blazer.

The cherry red one, in the schoolboy cut, with gold buttons and a hint of navy under the collar. I loved it on first sight, but I put it on mental hold—a risky game to play—thinking it might go on sale or perhaps I’d forget about it. And if, instead, I found myself daydreaming about that red blazer, I’d know it was meant to be. Even at full price.

But before I circled through my mental process and returned to the physical store, I saw the blazer. On a colleague’s back. In that moment, it no longer mattered how much I wanted the blazer or whether it fit me as if it had been custom made. To buy the blazer, after seeing a coworker, who also happens to be a friend, in it, felt underhanded. I’d always worry that we would show up wearing it on the same day. And if we did, I’d forever be the one who went after her blazer. No matter that I saw it on my own and that my intentions were pure. The red blazer was hers now, and I had to respect that.

This was not the first time this particular colleague and I have gone for the same garment. When we met, we realized we both already owned the same tribal print dress from Anthropologie. When colored denim was at its peak, we both bought AG jeans in kelly green. It’s hard to begrudge someone who so clearly has good taste. So we settled into an amicable routine of shared custody. It was as simple as an early morning text to alert one another when the tribal print dress was coming out of the closet so as to avoid looking like twins.

This comes up a lot in our magazine office, where so many of us not only love clothes but also think of our wardrobe as creative expression—or even, ahem, part of the job. There are days in the photo studio when we’ll look around and realize we’re all wearing chambray shirts and some version of a stripe. There’s a navy and white polka-dot blouse that at least four of us own. The number of J.Crew pencil skirts among us makes me wonder if a shared closet would be all that crazy.

It happens in any group of people who spend time together, I’m sure. Your style begins to influence and inspire each other. Sometimes it’s conscious—asking a friend where she got her cute ballet flats. Sometimes it’s unconscious—seeing a friend mix denim and sequins prompts you to consider denim and sequins.

Imitation is flattering. Unless it’s irritating.

To avoid veering into troublesome territory, I think it’s best to eschew identical statement pieces. If your friend found the floral pants first, let her rock them. There will be others. Except for the times when there is no substitute, in which case it’s best to be upfront. Revel in your mutual adoration of those floral pants and then get creative with styling to make them all your own. Pair the pants with something unexpected. Shop beyond the mall for accessories.

On the other hand, when you discover the most flattering pair of jeans, or the comfiest heel, or the most essential T-shirt, you are obligated to reveal your resources. That’s what friends are for.